Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Waiting...

This time of year I grow impatient waiting for the snow to melt on many hiking and backcountry trails, especially the trails that head deeper into the wilderness and away from the I-90 and western slope hordes.

Here's what I typically run into above 4,500 ft this time of year. This was scrambling up the snow toward Rampart Lakes above Rachel Lake on June 21st.
Rachel Lake through the trees

I am jonesin' to explore new trails, knowing that come late July I have about three full months of endless trails waiting for me. While I wait, I make sure my gear is in shape, get myself in shape, and plan trips with my friends to get our calendars lined up.

Getting my gear in shape means making sure everything is in trail-ready condition. For example, I'm old school, so my hiking boots may need another layer of waterproofing. Or perhaps your tent seams need a fresh layer of sealing tape. I also look to see what equipment upgrades I can afford, which usually is limited to whatever my REI dividend works out to be for the previous year.

The bigger effort is to get myself in shape or at least intensify the workouts I've been doing over the winter. As I get older, this proves to be harder, but I have a decent regimen that's proven to be adequately-targeted to hiking and backpacking. I do high-intensity elliptical workouts at the gym a few days a week, which also includes weightlifting that focuses on my core and my upper body strength. This also helps to keep my weight in check -- it makes more economic sense to burn off 5lbs of Ken than spend a few hundred bucks for a tent that weighs 2lbs less.

I did more running than usual this year, but it ultimately did more harm than good as I'm still trying to sort out what appear to be running-related injuries. I've never been a runner and I do it as a social thing and for its cross-training benefits, but again, my body just doesn't like it. Better to stick to the low-impact high-resistance workouts at the gym.

The more satisfying part of training means hitting spring workouts like Mailbox Peak and less-crowded but just-as-tough-if-not-tougher Mt. Teneriffe (take the trail up above the falls, not the long and boring road trail). Or hitting some not-yet melted trails like Perry Creek or Mount Defiance -- slipping and sliding as you head up a snowy slope works out all kinds of stabilizer muscles.

Here's the snow above Perry Creek from a few weeks ago.
Trail at 4,756 ft.

Late Spring also encourages me to head east to hikes out in the Teanaway area like Ingalls Creek or up along the Wenatchee range including Longs Pass and Esmeralda Basin; hikes that are hot and dusty come July/August. Also, a hike along a river on the eastern side of The Olympics is a good choice; Duckabush River is a worthwhile one. I generally choose these hikes in part because they're dog-friendly -- but be mindful that if hiking up Ingalls Creek that dogs are not allowed at Lake Ingalls.

The Stuart Range from Navaho Peak, a peak in the Wenatchee Range on the north side of the Teanaway river basin.
Mt. Stuart to Little Annapurna

And now is the time to line up all your big trips -- your multi-night outings to new places you've been thinking about for years, or to bring along some new friends to a trip that you want them to enjoy like you did. When you reach middle age, many of us have kids, pets, family events, and other vacations planned during the summer. So now is the time that I like to finalize the plans and groups for the grander adventures of the summer and early fall. It's also important to find folks that can commit to the plan, because dropping out near trip time can make it logistically challenging if you're planning a traverse trip with cars at either end, or you're sharing a tent and sharing the load for food and other gear. And of course you have to map out your routes, get the necessary passes, and be aware of seasonal road construction.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Grill Bratwurst

This is not what you expected to see here.

We have to eat after all that hiking, right?

One of my all-time favorite meals is grilled bratwurst. I grew up outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so brats were a summertime staple and always on hand at any family event or ball game.

I've cooked several hundred bratwurst in my life, and it's time I share the absolute best way that I know to cook them. The goal is to have an evenly and thoroughly cooked brat that retains all that delicious fat (okay, yup, it's grease), without landing on your bun looking like a piece of charcoal.

Here we go:

PHASE ZERO: PREP

Take the bratwurst out of the package and let them come up to room temperature. Done. That's why it's phase ZERO.

Do not, do NOT, DO NOT boil them in beer, onions, or anything else. I'm a purist. Brats are supposed to taste like brats and nothing else. If you want to put them on a bun and cover them in onions, sauerkraut (my fav), mustard, or anything else (except ketchup for god's sake!), that's your business. This post is how to get the bratwurst out of the fridge and onto your bun in top condition.

And on top of everything else, do NOT do anything to damage the natural casing. Some folks boil their brats and POKE THEM to release all their fat! AAAAaaaaaagggghhhhh!. Why, oh WHY would anyone do that? You've just ruined the essence of the bratwurst and reduced it to a chewy, shriveled, dry shell of its former self. Might as well throw it away and eat a hot dog.

PHASE ONE: BROWNING
Get your grill going; do the usual heat up, but just before putting on the brats, set the grill to medium-low if not just low.

Put the brats on the grill. If possible, avoid direct flame, use the deflectors/shields/whatever. The last thing you want is a flare-up. Go ahead and close the lid on the grill to hold in the heat.

THIS IS THE MOST CRITICAL TIME. DO NOT LEAVE THE BRATS ALONE ON THE GRILL. If you have to, dash into the house and grab your beer, I understand that. But DO YOUR JOB and stay by the grill.

Your goal here is to lightly brown at least two sides of all the brats. Get some grill marks on them, as that's your brand and you want to make them your own. Typically this phase of cooking your brats takes no more than about 8-10 minutes. Again, make SURE you're not getting flare-ups or doing ANY charring. The WORST thing you can do is burst your bratwurst by cooking it too fast over direct heat.

After the sides show some golden brownness and grill marks on at least two sides, you have succeeded at PHASE ONE. Whew, the hard work is over. Take a long drink of that beer, you've earned it.

PHASE TWO: BAKING

Baking??? Huh?? 

Yup, that's what I said. Baking. The trick to keeping your bratwurst from being charred to a cinder and blowing all the fat over the grill is to bake them with indirect heat.

Move all your brats to one side of the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, you'll have more work to do as you have to move all the coals to the other side of the grill. If you have a gas grill, it's easy. Turn off one side of your burners and move the brats to that side.

Now turn your gas on FULL on the other side. I'm talking pre-heat full-on blast. If you have charcoal, do your best to pile all your coals on the side opposite of the brats to make them generate the most heat. Keep your brats well out of the flame area.

The idea here is to create as much indirect heat in your grill as you can, but keep your brats away from that direct heat. It's possible, I suppose, that some of the new gas grills can get ridiculously hot with just half their burners going, so use some judgment here -- we're not looking for 700 degrees to fire some clay pots or melt lead; we want more like 450-500, sustained for about 12-15 minutes.

This is the easy part. Close the lid, let the heat build, and walk away.

Come back in 3-5 minutes and make sure there is no fire or any brats that have split open. That's a sign that it's too hot and you need to keep the lid open a bit and drop the heat.

Keep an eye on it; smoke is a bad sign as it means flare-ups, but if you're doing it right, they'll turn a darker golden brown after about 10-12 more minutes. Once they reach that uniform color, you've completed PHASE TWO. Perfect.

PHASE THREE: RESTING
Put on that smug grin of yours and parade your brats from the grill to the kitchen table. Cover them with foil and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before anyone puts one on a bun. They need to stabilize and reach their full-flavored potential while cooling down a bit. The last thing anyone wants is a blast of 300 degree grease in their mouth.

When that foil comes off, you'll see a pile of perfection -- golden brown brats without third degree char, plump with all that tasty brat-ness.

Enjoy!



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Perry Creek

With Boomer on the mend, I wanted, no needed, to hike something new that wasn't too far or too crowded. I read recent trip reports on Perry Creek and it sounded like a good hike with some adventure. Some folks made the ridge and others turned back -- looked like a challenge.

So we started hiking at about 9:45AM. The trail shares the same parking lot as Mt. Dickerman, a good workout that's better later in the season. There was only one other guy on the trail ahead of me.

Boomer was definitely himself and did his usual bolt ahead as soon as we hit the trail. The first mile of the trail is quite serene as it makes its way from the lot to the old and now inaccessible trailhead, meandering through old growth trees. Once you get away from the road, the silence is very welcoming.

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After a short walk on the road to the old trailhead, you hit the main trail which leads to Perry Creek and Mt. Forgotten Meadows on the top of the ridge; today's goal.

The trail climbs steadily as it alternates between old growth groves and open talus traverses. Here's a shot looking back down the valley toward Hall Peak. Big Four Mountain is out of view to the left.

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At the three mile mark I was happy to come to Perry Creek Falls to take a break and shoot.

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I didn't take the time to set up my tripod, but was able to get a few decent hand-held shots, thanks to the image stabilization in my lens.

After another 100 yards or so, I changed out of my boots and put on my new Keen sandals, picked up Boomer and waded across the chilly creek. Glad it was only calf-deep.

With feet dry and boots back on, we headed up the steeper switchbacks to the ridge. Lots of flowers along the way, including this lone trillium.

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We hit the snow at about 4,500 ft, and it was all snow from that point up. There was a hint of a trail, as the guy in front of me went about half way up the snow before getting frustrated with the lack of trail and headed back down. I went past his tracks with the help of my GPS and knowing it was just a straight shot, continuing the switchback.

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After reaching and exploring the ridge, I shot this 360 panoramic (best viewed on a PC).

Here's a shot of Mt. Forgotten, with White Chuck Peak in the distance.

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We then looked for a snow-free spot to sit and eat our lunch. The only spot I could find was a little ledge at the edge of the snowbank on the north side of the ridge. It was at most 3 ft wide, with a drop of a few hundred feet. I carefully dropped down there and plopped Boomer beside me, enthralled with the sandwich I shared.

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And I soaked in the huge view from our lunch spot.

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We were the first up there, and on the way back down, passed a half dozen more who had already crossed the creek and were heading up. We chatted, exchanging tips and directions.

I was back to the car about six hours after I started, covering 10 miles or so.


View Perry Creek 6/7 9:45 AM in a larger map

Brief trip report is also up on WTA's site.